Cornwall, 1854 - Alice Rowe owes everything to Reverend Alfred Markham who rescued her from a workhouse, employing her in his parsonage as a housemaid. So when he dies suddenly of a heart attack, Alice faces a fearful and uncertain future. But as one chapter in Alice's life ends, another begins. For as she discovers the Reverend's body in the woods near their house, she meets Gideon Davey - a 'ganger' who is laying a nearby stretch of railway line. Not only does Gideon help recover the body, but he returns to Trelaggan for the funeral - and also to see Alice again.
Sally is an orphan living in Plymouth's Barbican, a late 19th century dockside slum, where a vile trade flourishes in young girls, duped and shipped off to the brothels of Europe. Her sister, Ruth, is driven to prostitution in order to support them, until she becomes too ill to work.With her sick sister to take care of in their single room home,…
Gideon's behaviour does not go unnoticed in Trelaggan - especially from those critical of Alice and her past. Though he is threatened, Gideon is man enough to stand up to the village bullies. Then, just as Alice and Gideon's friendship hints at something more serious, Gideon is given an offer he can't refuse: to travel to the Crimea and build a railway to help the British troops.
Gideon, however, is not the only person about to leave Cornwall. For the arrival of the new rector finds Alice moving on too - and starting a remarkable chain of events that follow Gideon's journey across the world . . .
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